In “Familiar”, join Steven as he explores the messed up family dynamics and politics of the Diamond Authority.
“Steven Universe is a Disney princess!” is a joke that’s been thrown around a lot since the reveal in “A Single Pale Rose“, and that’s something “Familiar” really leans into. From Steven wandering a magnificent space palace, to interacting with sentient furniture, to having a Pink Diamond dress crafted for him by the mice-like Pebbles, much of this episode feels taken from a fairy tale.
But fairy tales have darker roots, and this one is no exception. Let’s take a moment and appreciate the sheer horror of being a sentient statue or wall panel. Beyond being literally objectifying for the poor beings, it’s also incredibly pointless. Maybe you’d be able to make full-size Peridots if you eased up on the sapient, singing hair-brushes, Blue.
That dichotomy between the superficial beauty and the underlying horror hung over me this entire episode. “Familiar” continues Steven’s quest to enlist White Diamond’s help in curing the Corruption she helped cause. When summoned for various ‘spa’ treatments with Yellow and Blue Diamond, Steven gets little help. Yellow, it seems, is too busy moaning about how White refuses to give her the time of day. Blue, meanwhile, is wallowing in melancholy for the good old days. The story of the underwater-singing game they used to play with Pink, something I myself did on family pool days, would have been cute… if I could forget how casually Blue Diamond once ordered Ruby’s execution.
Superficially, Blue does seem to care the most about the feelings of her fellow Diamonds, noted by how she actually calls Steven by his name. That’s undermined by how she immediately chuckles, and returns to calling him Pink. The entire set-up seems very analogous to how families can treat transgender identities, either outright ignoring it or simply treating it as an amusing game. One wonders how they’ll react when they realize that Steven is dead serious about all of this.
The titular song ‘Familiar’ is truly beautiful, in both composition and voice acting. Zach Callison truly shows how much he’s improved vocally since he first took on the role of Steven, something which works well for a piece about reflecting on past growth. It’s a deeply melancholic song- not just because of Pink’s abandoned childish drawings, or how it casts a memory on the lonelier season one episodes- but because the conclusion Steven ultimately reaches will almost certainly be proven wrong.
Looking into Pink Diamond’s old mirror, Steven finally sees himself reflected in his mother. A little kid, striving to keep up with busy parents, who used jokes and singing to help them grow and become better. He hopes that by throwing a huge ball, and summoning White Diamond out of her ‘head’, a proper conversations is all it will take to show his long-lost family the error of their ways.
But the Diamonds are not the Crystal Gems. And, by the same token, Steven is not actually Pink Diamond. If even the original failed to teach her Authority members compassion and empathy for other beings, there’s no way Steven will do so pretending to be her.
It’s inevitable- or I hope it’s inevitable- that the moment will come when Steven realizes this. When some cruelty will be displayed that will make him realize he cannot simply play nice, and force him to do as Bismuth advised him: roar like a lion.
All in all, “Familiar” feels like a transitory set-up. While there were interesting plot details and moments, I’m left anxious to see where the Steven-as-Pink-Diamond plot is taking us as we speed towards the finale.
Author: Laura B
Lover of fantasy and science fiction, fascinated in how they impact the real world. Professional writer and science communicator.
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